A Chicago teenager's letter to Santa may not have made it to the North Pole, but its message reached the commander in chief, who replied with words of encouragement.
"All I ask for is for safety," wrote 13-year-old Malik Bryant, a resident of the city's Englewood neighborhood. "I just wanna be safe."
In a video posted Monday to the Chicago Sun-Times' YouTube page, Malik opened a letter in response to his own that concluded with Barack Obama's signature.
"I want to offer you a few words of encouragement this holiday season," began the letter, dated Dec. 22.
The letter continues: "Each day I strive to ensure communities like yours are safe places to dream, discover, and grow. Please know your security is a priority for me in everything I do as President. If you dare to be bold and creative, work hard every day, and care for others, I'm confident you can achieve anything you can imagine. I wish you and your family the very best in the coming year, and I will be rooting for you.
Sincerely, Barack Obama."
According to NBC Chicago, the Chicago-based Direct Effect Charities has been running a local "Letters to Santa" program for more than a decade and receives about 8,000 letters annually. A DEC spokeswoman told NBC Chicago she forwarded Malik's letter to Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley, whose staff contacted Obama's office.
Asked for his reaction to the president's letter, Malik said, "I'm surprised that he wrote it to me. I didn't expect my letter to go to the White House, but I think it sent a message to everybody that it's not safe out here in Chicago. It's dangerous."
Telling the Sun-Times he once saw the dead body of a fellow teen who was shot to death, Malik said he wrote his letter because he can't visit his family without fear. "When they come over here, they fear that there are some blocks over there that nobody [can] go through, because there's real hard gang-banging, and all that," he added. "I can't go outside and ride my bike. I can't play ball outside."
Malik appeared to appreciate the letter from Obama's office, but balanced it with perspective. "I'm surprised he wrote it, but it's not going to solve safety [problems] out here." he said. "It's still dangerous."
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